I surprise myself with these invocations. Help me, crow. Bring me home, guitar. Or Carry me, Christopher. People say Help me, Jesus and I’ve never understood. I’ve scowled. Or I’ve craned my neck around, wondering what it is they expect to see, out of which corner of the ceiling Jesus is going to descend or what brand of help he’s going to send.
Money? The intercession of friends? A miraculous cure?
I need, and am ashamed of, this cynicism. Why do I have to be so hurtful? Can’t I just leave people and their balmy or brainy or screwball faith to themselves?
I screw my neck around wildly. I know when I listen to the faithful I sometimes get a furrow between my eyebrows, the left one lifts. I understand the longing. I can imagine that ecstasy and rapture are things we work upon our own emotions and insides, that this spirituality is a part of our mechanical being: we believe because believing is what humans are hardwired to do. If faith is an internal fire, it is creative and genius and an expression of the inarticulate longings of the heart; that I think is beautiful. That I love. Those are the souls on fire that I’ve fallen in love with and the ones who’ve made human history palatable. In paintings and dancings and cathedrals.
But I am baffled by the proposition that all this internal fire is talked about as if it were an external reality. That people pray and supposedly are talking to someone. That people talk about holy days and rituals and rites and they actually believe something is happening outside of their own imagination and flowery hearts. Further, that they should believe this so firmly that they are willing to tell other people how to act in the name of this something; to dictate and judge, to shame and brand, to enslave and sell and rape and pillage and burn.
Faith is delusional.
And, I think, sacred.
What is it in me that is so hungry and so mean? Why, when I am faced with a minor crisis, should I start calling on crows and poet saints and the very breath inside me to hang on?
Why should anything be a crisis, at all? If we were simple mechanics, if all things were just because they are, if everything is causal or instinct or illusion, indifferent even, there would be no such thing as fear or panic. No such thing as self. No caterwauling heart.
And nothing in our names.
I would have gotten on with St. Christopher. He was a realist and doubtful. He would half ass nothing.
He took it into his head one day to do only that which was true. Nothing less than everything. So he wandered until he found the most powerful king there then was. Our first foray into spirit being, I suppose, the world of men and politics. Power.
But one day, Christopher noticed this king crossed himself at the mention of the devil. The king was not powerful. He was afraid.
And if there is something more, Chris wanted it. He went looking for the devil. This rings true. Humans fail me. Ideas are shallow. Give me something that moves me, deep. Screw morality. Give up on goodness. Goodness didn’t help when it mattered most. I can sin better than I can pray; let me find that devil and wallow with him. So Saint Chris found a wandering band of marauders, a nasty lot, and he set his service up there. All sex and bawdy intoxication, I’m guessing. Riches and textures and sensuality to the gills. Glut the mouth, the eyes, the ears, the heart.
And I suppose he had a merry time of it. Until one day he noticed that these men who bowed to no man avoided a cross at an intersection. This devil was afraid of god.
This is how it goes. We chase physicality, and people, and scenes. We gather miles and milestones. We drink things to the dredges. But we are left, after a while, with the distinct feeling that we have been licking the earth.
St. Christopher was a monster. A soldier. A huge man who shouted. The nicknames around the soldier are reprobate, scoundrel. Dog. When he looked for god, the holy men recognized he was not a meek and prayerful, fasting man. Instead, they sent him to a river that was dangerous to cross. They had him carry people. Thus he became a saint of safe passage.
He never saw god. He only had the lived experience of failure, wandering, fight. He only found church in carrying human beings.
St. Christopher did not pray. He barked.
I was given a St. Christopher once by a boy. He was a hard boy. He set fire to things and tattooed his knuckles with india ink. He had an uncanny ability to get other boys to bend to his will, to break the rules for him, to subvert.
He made a necklace out of fishing line and craft store beads, bored at what art therapy in an institution was having him do. Then he suddenly narrowed his eyes and asked permission to go up to his room. He came back with a Christopher pendant. He strung it with the yellow and blue and all too bright for anyone but a little girl or a hippie beads. It was off center. He worked faster, slinging the final beads on and tying the clasp on with his teeth. He handed it to me.
Wear this. he said. It’ll protect you.
I wore it. It seemed to glare from my neck, those bright beads. I wanted to say ‘protect me from what’? But didn’t. He was a hard boy. I knew what he meant.
At that same job, that same boy once saw another boy bring a chair down on top of my head. He wailed. It sounded very much like the early part of a tornado siren, and not like a human boy. Not, anyway, like him. I was fine, the chair fell off to the side, and the chair throwing boy was taken away. But the first boy and I locked eyes for a moment. That sound brought a sickness to my lowest belly; there was such pain in it, such anger and betrayal and fear. It was such an intense sound, half mewing of a cat, half instrument, half sorrow. His sound flickered at me, and something in me flashed back, and our eyes hung on a single taut thread for just a moment. I found it painful.
It was supposed to protect you, he said. And I was a little dumbstruck. I rested my hand on his head and talked over-simply; pointed out that I was okay, that the boy wasn’t really angry at me but at some other thing, that ultimately we were all working it out. I shifted his attention – my attention – to the next thing.
But the gut question stayed. My surprise that he could feel such fear or pain or connection, such love, so raw. My further surprise that he actually thought his little necklace would do something, would, in some non descript way, work. That he wanted me to be protected.
I don’t know what happened to the kid. Most of them didn’t come out ok. The world doesn’t work so nicely. I don’t know, either, what I ever did with the necklace. There are too many things, trinkets, people, addresses, that I’ve had and lost over time. The necklace could be anywhere. I am sitting on a bus to Kansas City and I bring my fingertips to my collarbones. Years later. As if it were a thing I could still touch.
As if that mewing, miowing sound were still hallowing in my belly juices.
As if I could say Christopher, carry him, and it might mean something. As if it might work.
I don’t pray. I bark and holler. I moan.